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In the Media: 2014 Activities of Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell

January 12, 2015

In the middle of his fifth decade of investigating the world’s strangest mysteries, CSI’s Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell continued to address paranormal, historical, and forensic mysteries—both in new investigations and media appearances.

Joe Nickell looks through binoculars

Nickell’s background makes him uniquely suited for such work. He has been a professional stage magician and mentalist (serving as Resident Magician at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame), a twice-promoted investigator for a world-famous detective agency (including work as an undercover operative), and a literary scholar (his Ph.D. in English Literature emphasizing literary investigation and folklore). Nickell also has considerable training and field experience in both historical research and forensics, and he has spoken at various forensic conferences, including the International Association for Identification, The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners, and the New York State Academy of Fire Science, among others.

Nickell is often sought by the media for his expertise. He has appeared on numerous television shows, including multiple appearances on series like National Geographic’s Is It Real? and the History Channel’s Monster Quest. Nickell has been interviewed by such notables as Oprah, Larry King, Anderson Cooper, Joan Rivers, Bill Maher, and many others. He is author (or co-author or editor) of some forty books, including Crime Science, and The Science of Miracles, the latter chosen by the BBC’s magazine Focus: Science and Technology for its June 2012 book-of-the-month selection. (The magazine’s review by Chris French stated: “There is probably no one in the world better qualified to write a book assessing the evidence relating to alleged miracles than Joe Nickell.”)

As always, in 2014 Nickell was filmed repeatedly for television shows. He recorded portions of several episodes of Miracles Decoded, shown internationally by the History Channel. He was also featured on multiple episodes of America: Facts Versus Fiction (American Heroes Channel), as well as other shows, appearing here and there in reruns, as well as live on shows in Buffalo and Montreal (on CTV). Filmed appearances at symposia included Nickell’s participation on a cryptozoology panel (from England’s QED 2012) and the Trottier Science Symposium in Montreal (about which more presently).

Nickell also appeared as a guest on several radio programs, notably on CBC radio in Toronto for an investigative look at Lily Dale, the spiritualist village, and alleged talking with the dead. He appeared in person in the studio for The Tommy Schumacher Show in Montreal, with call-ins, and on other radio shows, and podcasts. For example, he conducted an annual Houdini Séance for CFI’s Point of Inquiry, with Nora Hurley. (Once again, though, Houdini was a no-show.)

Various print and online sources that sought Nickell’s opinions included USA Today, The New York Times, and the Detroit Free Press, as well as such diverse sources as the Missoula Independent (Montana), McGill Tribune (Montreal), Ocala Star Banner (Florida), Richmond Times-Dispatch (Virginia), and Phoenix magazine (Arizona). CNN.com featured Nickell’s comments in an in-depth article titled “Beyond Goodbye” on so-called “shared death experiences” (not to be confused with reputed near-death experiences).

In addition, he gave many lectures and conference contributions. These included such large venues as the annual Mensa conference (in Boston), where he also had a book signing, and the previously mentioned Loren Trottier Public Science Symposium (October 6–7) at McGill University. The 2014 theme was “Are We Alone?” Speakers included Jim Bell, Planetary Society president; Jill Tarter, SETI Institute; Sara Seeger, MIT professor and planetary scientist; and Nickell, who spoke on “UFO Mythologies.” Nickell’s media duties included—in addition to The McGill Tribune, CJAD Radio, and Canadian television previously mentioned—being interviewed by The McGill Reporter and the podcast Within Reason, as well as participating in a symposium round table that included additional participants like astronaut Julie Payette. There were also luncheons, VIP receptions, dinners, and book signings. . . . The symposium was recorded and posted online.

Also, as he has annually for many years, Nickell participated in Science Exploration Day for high school students held at the University at Buffalo campus. His session—“Investigating ‘Paranormal’ Mysteries” which teaches critical thinking—has often been “the highest ranked” by the students. Nickell also appeared once again at CFI’s popular Camp Inquiry near Holland, New York, where each attendee received a copy of Nickell’s interactive children’s book, The Magic Detectives (thanks to Barry Karr).

In Skeptical Inquirer science magazine, Nickell published the results of several of his investigations. (Editor Kendrick Frazier has called him “the master solver of major popular mysteries. . . . No one does such investigations better than Nickell”). These included: “The ‘Bell Witch’ Poltergeist”; “The Conjuring: Ghosts? Poltergeist? Demons?”; “The ‘200 Demons’ House: A Skeptical Demonologist’s Report”; “The ‘Miracles’ of Father Baker”; “Bigfoot at Mount Rainier”; and “Era of Flying Saucers.” Also he and Major James McGaha (USAF retired), provided a special report on additional flying saucer cases. (The March/April 2014 issue also featured Nickell’s receipt of the Balles Prize in Critical Thinking for his 2012 book, The Science of Ghosts.)

And in Skeptical Briefs (the CFI newsletter) and in Nickell’s blog, Investigative Briefs, he reported on some of his other investigatory work. In the Briefs he investigated the celebrated historical mystery of Maria Monk, the latest claims regarding the Amityville Horror, “Bigfoot Bears” in the Yukon Territory (where Nickell worked 1975–76 as a blackjack dealer, riverboat manager, museum exhibit designer, and newspaper stringer), and the legend of Germany’s siren, Lorelei, an example of historical fakelore. In his blogs, he investigated numerous examples of early quack medicine, miracles, UFOs, Bigfoot, and more, also offering the occasional review, report, cartoon, poem, or satire (including his “RIDDLEculous” series).

Nickell continues work on other important investigations and has several articles and books in progress. In 2015, he will be featured in an anthology of Western New York poets; expect also, in audio book form, his Secrets of the Sideshows, and the appearance of a major new (co-authored) book that is sure to be of interest.

Nickell also continues to operate his online Skeptiseum (or skeptical museum) which is now a member of the Small Museums Association. Two items—a snake-oil bottle and rare spirit trumpet—were featured last year on the Travel Channel’s popular series, Mysteries at the Museum. The Skeptiseum is currently undergoing a makeover. Meanwhile Nickell continues to use his own money to acquire artifacts for the collection which is attracting attention in many quarters.

Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell's photo

Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.